ASSIGNMENT >> 13. Read “How to Handle Rumors and Whispering Campaigns.”


There may be times when one’s reputation comes under attack by rumor or gossip, giving one a false reality and making him unreal and out of agreement with the people he is in contact with. This situation is the opposite of what good public relations is supposed to accomplish. It amounts to “bad works falsely publicized.” 

Often a person just shrugs and accepts this as part of life; this is the way it is and there is no trusting human nature. Others bitterly fight to defend their reputations and, lacking the technology of public relations that can show one how to deal with such circumstances, go about it in such a way that their denials only make matters worse. 

Slander does not just happen to celebrities or political figures. Rumors and lies can make life unpleasant in any social circle. 

What does one do when threatened with such attacks upon one’s good name? 

There are standard public relations solutions to this problem that one should know and apply if this type of situation ever arises. 

“Black propaganda” (black = bad or derogatory; propaganda = pushing out statements or ideas) is the term used to describe the technique employed to destroy reputation or public belief in persons, companies or nations. 

The technique of black propaganda seeks to bring a reputation so low that the person, company or nation is denied any rights whatever by “general agreement.” It is then possible to destroy the person, company or nation with a minor attack if the black propaganda itself has not already accomplished this. 

Vicious and lying gossip by old women was the earlier form of this tactic and was so bad that some areas put them in public stocks (neck yokes) or drove them out of town. 

In modern times there is no such check on black propaganda. Difficulties and costs of libel and slander suits, abuse of press privilege, and so forth, lay anyone open to such a campaign. 

All one needs is an enemy. And there are few men in history who have been without enemies. 

There are random individuals in the society who do not understand very much. 

This is expressed as a sort of malicious glee about things. Such pass on slanderous rumors very easily. In an illiterate society such people abound. Since they cannot read, the bulk of knowledge is denied to them. Since they do not know very many words, much of what is said to them is not understood. 

This is not isolated to the illiterate only. 

What they do not understand they substitute for with imaginary things. 

Thus such persons not only listen to slander but also corrupt and twist even it. 

Thus a rumor can go through a society that has no basis in truth. 

When numbers of such rumors exist and are persistent, one suspects a “whispering campaign.” This is not because people whisper these things but because like an evil wind it seems to have no source. 

Black propaganda makes use of such a willingness to pass on and amplify falsehoods. 

Much black propaganda is of course more bold and appears blatantly in irresponsible (or covertly controlled) newspapers and radio and television. 

But even after a bad press story has appeared or a bad radio or TV broadcast has been given, the “whispering campaign” is counted upon by black propagandists to carry the slander through the society. 

Thus any person, any being, is at risk. 

A person comes to fear bad things being said about him. In the face of a whispering campaign, real or imagined, one tends to withdraw, tends to become less active and reach less. 

This is equally true of companies and even nations. 

Thus, unless one knows how to handle such an attack, one can in fact be made quite miserable and ill. 

The Law of the Omitted Data

There is a natural law at work that unfortunately favors black propaganda. 


This is the Law of the Omitted Data.

A vacuum tends to fill itself. Old philosophers said that “nature abhors a vacuum.” Actually the surrounding pressure flows into an area of no pressure.

It is this way with a person, company or nation.

Hit by lies the person tends to withdraw. This already tends to pull things in.

The person does not then wish to put out data. He becomes to some degree a mystery.

To fill that mystery people will invent data.

This is true of persons, companies or nations.

This is where public relations is a necessity.

Essentially public relations is the art of making good works well known.

It is a fatal error to think good works speak for themselves. They do not. They must be publicized. 

Essentially this is what public relations is. And this is why it is—to fill that vacuum of omitted data. In the midst of a black propaganda campaign one is denied normal communication channels. The press media along which the campaign is being conducted will not run favorable comment. One is mad if he thinks it will as it is serving other masters that mean to destroy the repute of the target. 

“Authoritative” utterances push plain truth out of sight. 

Thus public relations people have to be very expert in their technology when they confront black propaganda. 

The Handling

When one is not fighting a battle against black propaganda, public relations is easy. 

One hires a reporter who gets to work thinking up ideas and turning out releases. That’s why reporters are often thought of as public relations people, which they are not. 

In the face of a black propaganda campaign, such releases are twisted, refused and that is the end of it. 

There is far more to the art than this. 

These are some of the rules that apply: 

Fill the Vacuum 

First of all, cease to withdraw. It is proven conclusively that in public relations handling of black propaganda, only the outflow of information pays off. Saying nothing may be noble in a character but it is fatal in public relations. 

Blunt denial is crude and can be used against one as a sort of confirmation. 

You don’t have to announce or spread a flap and never should. Public relations men often make the flap. 

But don’t interpret this as “silence is necessary.” Get in a safe place and speak up. 

Use any channel to speak up. But don’t seek channels that will corrupt what you say in repeating it. 

Don’t stay on the same subject that you are being attacked on. 

An example of speaking up without denying and thus confirming might be: 

STATEMENT: “I read your company went broke last month.” 

REBUTTAL: “My God. You’re telling me! If we hadn’t got out of that contract we really would have gone broke. There was a hell of a row in the boardroom. But McLinty won. Scotch to the core. He said, ‘I won’t sign it!’ Like to have tore the president’s head off. Hell of a row. Seems like we got 80 million buried somewhere and McLinty is in charge of it and he won’t move an inch on it.” 

The interrogator’s conclusion is you’re not broke. He’s got data. The vacuum is filled with a story of board rows and 80 million mysterious reserves. 

Disprove False Data

This consists of disproving utterly the false statement with documents or demonstration or display. One has to have a kit (a collection of documents) or the ability to demonstrate or something to display. 

STATEMENT: “I’ve been told you are in trouble with the County Board of Health.” 

REBUTTAL: “Here’s our recently issued health certificate and a letter of commendation from the Board of Health.” Displays same. 

Result? Whoever told him that is now discredited with him as an accurate informer. 

When the person makes some disprovable statement, find who to fix his mind on it and then produce the rebuttal. 

STATEMENT: “I hear you aren’t married to the man you’re living with.” 

REBUTTAL: “Who told you that?” 

STATER: “I forget.” 

REBUTTER: “Well, you remember and I’ll show you some proof.” 

STATER: “Well, it was a man....” 


STATER: “Joe Schmo.” 

REBUTTER: “Okay. Here’s my marriage certificate. Who’s the Joe Schmo nut anyway?” 

Now it’s Joe Schmo who’s the mystery. How come he lies? What’s in it for him? 

When one hasn’t got the document but can get it, one can say, “You tell me the name of whoever said that and next time I see you I’ll show you something very interesting about it.”

And be sure to get the document and see him again. 

There are a billion variations. “It won’t fly.” Fly it. “Place is empty.” Show him it’s full. 

The subject matter of this is proof in whatever form. 

You only challenge statements you can prove are false and in any conversation let the rest slide. 

Disprove Every Rumor

Where there is no data available people will invent it. This law unfortunately favors black propaganda.

If the vacuum is filled by true data...

...the black propaganda is seen to be a lie and vanishes.

Proving negatives is almost impossible. “How do I know you aren’t a CIA man?” Well, how can one prove that? One can’t whip out a KGB badge as that would be just as bad. No one ever wrote a document, “Bill Till is not a member of the CIA.” Useless. It is a denial. Who’d believe it? 

Sometimes “You don’t” works. 

But the right answer to a negative (no proof) is to “fill the vacuum.” 

And once in a while you can prove a negative. Accused of drug smuggling one can show he’s a member of the antidrug league. The counter in a negative proof must be creditable

A million million variations exist. 

The basis of it is not to be the thing rumored and to be able to prove it fast. 

Continue to Fill the Vacuum

Continuous good works and effective release of material about one’s good works is vital. 

Pamphlets, brochures, press releases, one’s own newspaper and magazine, these and many more, must be supplied with a comprehensible identity of self

Distributing or using these, one publicizes one’s own good works. 

And one must also do good works. One must, through his good works and actions at least, be visible. 

So a continual, truthful and artful torrent of public relations pieces must occur. 

Then one day there is no enemy. 

And one’s repute is high. 

There may be other attacks but now one can handle them as small fires and not as a whole burning forest. 

You can see that black propaganda is a covert attack on the reputation of a person, company or nation, using slander and lies in order to weaken or destroy. 

Defense presupposes that the target is not that bad. 

One does not have to be perfect to withstand such an attack, but it helps. 

But even if one were perfect it would be no defense. Almost all the saints in history have been subjected to such attacks. And most of them died of it. 

The answer is public relations technology skillfully applied

To be skillful in anything, one has to know it and be experienced in it and do it.

a false and intentionally harmful statement that damages somebody’s reputation.

a wooden frame in which, in former times, an offender was secured by the hands and feet or head and hands, and left in public to be ridiculed or abused.

the action of publishing false and malicious statements about someone.

a special right granted to a particular group that frees them from having to comply with certain rules or restrictions. Press privilege is the legal right of reporters and editors to refuse to name in a court of law the identities of their sources of information.

exist in great numbers.

concealed, hidden or disguised; not openly practiced or shown.

dislikes or rejects something very strongly.

a statement that contradicts another statement and proves it to be false or in error.

a noisy quarrel, dispute or disturbance.

extremely careful not to spend money wastefully. Scotch, as used here, means thrifty and economical, in reference to qualities that are sometimes attributed to Scottish people. To the core (the central, innermost part of something) means completely; as much as possible.

was on the verge of or came close to (doing something); nearly; almost.

Central Intelligence Agency, a major United States Government agency that gathers information (intelligence) about foreign governments and certain nongovernmental groups, including those that engage in terrorism or organized crime. It also attempts to secretly influence events in other countries.

abbreviation for Komitet Gosudarstvennoj Bezopasnosti (Russian for “Committee for State Security”), the former Soviet Union’s secret police, espionage and security agency. Its responsibilities included covert intelligence operations, the protection of Soviet political leaders and border patrol (to keep intruders out and citizens in).

believes or assumes beforehand or in advance; expects.